“I didn’t paint war scenes in order to prevent war; never would I have had that pretension,” Otto Dix told Otto Wundshammer in 1946. “I painted them in order to conjure war away. All art is conjuration.”
In evaluating his own work more than twenty years after the Great War of 1914-1918, Dix subscribed to what Pablo Picasso had foretold about art in the early years of the twentieth century: its impotence in changing the courses of things as well as its power of conjuration for artists engaged in the task of taking stock of the world as it is.
In the case in point, not having been able to account for the events as they were unfolding, his contemporaries, in refusing to reexamine them after 1918, opened another front for him and led him to handle another form of violence. Dix speaks there of the chaos that remains silent in the wake of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, the Rhenish masters, and Francisco Goya’s The Disasters of War. All of those artists had the power to imagine the worst, and this was all the more the case for Dix, who had seen it with his own eyes in the trenches.